Monday, September 7, 2020

Tahkenitch Dunes Loop

And then the trouble started. The weather forecast for late afternoon on September 7, 2020 contained two dire weather-related warnings: extreme warm temperatures combined with a 100 year windstorm. Sure, why not. Good old 2020 just has to be the year to have that happen along with all the other "delights" this year has brought us. At any rate, winds of up to 70 miles per hour were expected to blow into the Cascades in the evening. Hurricane force winds, hot weather, and dry forests, what could ever possibly go wrong?

Tahkenitch Creek reaches the end of its journey

But hey, Armageddon was at least 12 hours away so that left plenty of time to get a hike in before the world ended. Off I went to the coast, where the temperature was decidedly cooler and more pleasant than what could be found in the mountain ranges and valleys of southern Oregon. The Tahkenitch Dunes area is one of my favorite hiking haunts because of its relative proximity to Roseburg and because it serves up an all-you-can-eat buffet of coastal delights ranging from lush forest to sand dunes, along with every other other ecology and biome ranging in between.

Rhododendrons all lit up by the sun

Beginning from  the trailhead at Tahkenitch Campground, the trail immediately tunneled uphill through dense vegetation comprising a typical coastal forest. Rhododendron leaves fanned out leafy fingers like a hand asking for charity, glowing green where illuminated by the sun. Coastal huckleberries were not yet quite ripe (yes, I sampled) but the thick bushes contributed to the vegetative vibe. Moss tendrils hung off of every available branch like so many beards at a 
ZZ Top concert while anything at ground level, including the ground, was covered with a cushiony layer of bright emerald green moss. You could almost imagine leprechauns and leaping gnomes (besides yours truly), cavorting through the woods in delight.

A dune swallows the forest, or vise versa

The trail is fairly steep for the first mile or two but to be honest, I was feeling pretty frisky and didn't really mind. At one point, a migrating sand dune had entered the forest and it was kind of odd to see tall trees standing in sand instead of on solid ground. At any rate, the path followed a densely forested ridge crest before beginning a protracted descent down to Threemile Lake.

Dog vomit smile mold, in all it's disgusting glory

It was a leisurely stroll down through the forest with me photographing woodland delights such as fungi of various ilk and at least one specimen of dog vomit slime mold, my most favorite name of anything. My child-rearing days are long behind me but if I were to have another child, his or her name would be Dog Vomit Slime Mold O'Neill, whether boy or girl. It's probably a good thing I'm done raising children. With that name, that poor child would have no other choice in life but to become a punk rocker.

Threemile Lake, cut into two lakes by low water levels

After several miles of hiking through a sublime forest, pleasantly losing elevation all the while, the trail temporarily bottomed out at the north end of Threemile Lake. The lake level was low and in the middle, an isthmus exposed by the shrinking lake divided Threemile Lake into two Onepointfivemile Lakes. A contemplative stop took place at the lake's overlook and as I ruminated upon the meaning of it all, wind zephyrs danced across the surface, reminding me that the Hundred Year Storm was probably at Year Twenty-Five this very moment. Yes, it was breezy and yes, it was the advance wave of the incoming storm system.

Blustery conditions prevailed on the beach

Needless to say, things got chillier once I was out of the forest and into the exposed dunes. A large fog bank loomed skyward but for the time being was hanging out over the ocean, coming no further inland than the beach strand, so things weren't as cold as they could have been. Of course, the wind was right in my face as I hiked north on the beach, making eyes water enough that it was hard to see where I was going. Fortunately, I avoided walking blindly into the ocean and made my dry-footed way to the edge of Tahkenitch Creek.

Lines, lines, everywhere a line
Lining up the scenery, breakin' my mind...

It was low tide and the ebbing waters had created a large artist's canvas of ripples and other abstract patterns on the beach. It almost seemed a shame to walk on the artwork but I did have to deface the sand painting to make the beach egress needed for continuation of my trek. Much of this area is off limits due to snowy plover protection efforts and at one point a sign said "Sensitive Wildlife Area" which struck my funny bone. What's next? Signs that say "Do Not Harshly Criticize the Animals" or "Wildlife Have Feelings, Too"? 

Pathway through the dunes

At any rate, I left the animal snowflakes behind and continued on to Tahkenitch Dunes proper. I had earlier been passed by younger (and faster, naturally) hikers but overtook them in the dunes when they stopped to catch their breath. Eat my tortoise dust, hares! After leaving the dunes and reentering the forest, it was a short walk down to the trailhead and a speedy drive home to beat the wind's arrival.

Still life with thimbleberry leaves and sunlight

That night, the winds did arrive and basically set the entire Cascades on fire. Thick, acrid, ashy smoke choked us for nearly a week and the whole vibe was end-of-the-worldish. Large swaths of the National Forests were closed and I think we can forget about hiking on the lower segments of North Umpqua Trail for a long time. The wind and fire combined to create a genuine catastrophe and I vote we should promote that wind event to at least a Hundred Thousand Year Storm.

The end of the world begins

For more pictures of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.

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